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Television Review

‘Outsourced’ slacking on the job

Ben Rappaport in “Outsourced,’’ a sitcom that takes a look at two cultures. Ben Rappaport in “Outsourced,’’ a sitcom that takes a look at two cultures. (Harper Smith/NBC)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / September 23, 2010

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There has been a small uproar — actually, a teensy uproar, also known as a few blog entries — claiming that the new NBC sitcom “Outsourced’’ jokes about Americans losing their jobs to overseas workers. Defending “Outsourced,’’ which is based on a 2006 movie, show-runner Robert Burden recently told the press, “We are certainly not making fun of the fact that so many people in this country are out of work or facing difficult times.’’

Ain’t that the truth. The show, which premieres tonight at 9:30 on Channel 7, is too unambitious in scope, and too broad in tone, to satirize the recession or unemployment or anything that counts as relevant. Unlike “30 Rock,’’ the go-to show for sharp topical humor, “Outsourced’’ is a willfully silly culture-clash comedy about America and India. Here’s the blurb: “Outsourced’’ features some of the freshest poop, vomit, and farting-gnome jokes on TV right now.

The idea is to affectionately tease both American and Indian cultures. In the premiere, Todd (newcomer Ben Rappaport), who works for Mid America Novelties in Kansas City, is sent to run a call center in Mumbai, where he must train a room of locals to sell deer heads that sing “Sweet Home Alabama.’’ He is completely thrown by the traditions of India — “I guess you don’t have to go far for the creamer,’’ he cracks about the sacred cow on the office porch. And his employees are mystified by the American kitsch they need to sell. Faced with a mistletoe belt, for example, employee Asha (Rebecca Hazlewood) says, “This is how you celebrate the birthday of the son of your God?’’ Another rich goof on America: Pointing to a battery-operated novelty called Jiggle Jugs, Todd sincerely announces to his workers, “This is the definition of freedom.’’

Ultimately, India takes more of a comic beating than America in the course of the “Outsourced’’ premiere, and a few bloggers have taken note of that as well. The ensemble of Indian workplace-misfit characters — including the hysterically soft-spoken Madhuri (Anisha Nagarajan) — clicks together nicely, but they’re nonetheless portrayed with a hint of condescension as those cute caricatures whose accents are so funny and whose food gives you diarrhea. Also, Todd and his new American friend, fellow call-center manager Charlie (Diedrich Bader), have no interest in Indian culture in a way that can seem like imperialistic indifference.

But I suspect and hope that the balance will shift back and forth as the show develops — if it gets enough viewers to develop, which is questionable. The Indian characters will learn more about the American sensibility and get to deliver lines such as this one by Nagarajan’s Madhuri in tonight’s episode: “Sir, how would you like to pay for your vomit and your poo?’’ And perhaps Todd will start to look beyond his own efforts to educate his employees on the fine and not-so-fine points of United States detritus. At the end of the premiere, he even tries a few dollops of local food in the cafeteria, against Charlie’s advice.

I can’t say “Outsourced’’ belongs in the same comedy programming block as “30 Rock’’ and “The Office,’’ series that show more imagination and, at times, wisdom. It’s just a little novelty, much like the plastic body fluids its characters are selling.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

OUTSOURCED

Starring: Ben Rappaport, Rizwan Manji, Parvesh Cheena, Rebecca Hazlewood

On: NBC, Channel 7

Time: Tonight, 9:30-10